Off with his head! And Tamil Nadu education minister Vaigai Selvan loses his job, the fourth in the ministry to be dismissed since 2011. But that is the chief minister's style, reports S Murari.
If politics in Tamil Nadu, under Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, can be compared to a complex game of chess, then she is undoubtedly the all-powerful queen while her ministers are mere pawns. If it is compared to a game of rummy, then she is the ace of cards and her ministers are simply a pack of jokers.
This phenomenon has probably been true since the rule of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam founder and Jayalalithaa's mentor MGR. In fact, at one time his trusted lieutenant S Thirunavakkasar had stated, "If MGR is No 1, we are mere ciphers. We get some currency only if we follow him".
MGR, of course, gave greater leeway to his ministers. But he could be ruthless when they showed the slightest sign of rebellion.
Senior minister S D Somasundaram, who questioned the undue prominence given to Jayalalithaa in the party in the early 1980s, learnt this the hard way.
So did K A Krishnaswamy, whose loyalty was doubted by MGR, despite the senior minister being one of the handful of leaders who followed the actor-turned-politician when he parted ways with Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam President Karunanidhi to form the AIADMK.
Jayalalithaa assumed the leadership of a truncated AIADMK after MGR’s death in December 1987. She had to fight every inch of the way to take total control of the party after enabling rival Janaki’s faction to merge with hers and share the party symbol as well as its funds.
Her style of functioning came into full play during her first term as the chief minister between 1991 and 1996.
She systematically marginalised senior leaders who were loyal to MGR. She encouraged her sycophants to raise her to the level of a cult figure by putting up sky-high cutouts across Chennai and comparing her to Mother Mary. By cashing in on her name, both figuratively and literally, her followers amassed ill-begotten wealth.
Largely considered as a corrupt and autocratic regime, people threw out Jaya and Company lock, stock and barrel in the assembly election in 1996.
Jayalalithaa did learn her lessons from that shock defeat. When she returned to power in 2001, she provided good governance.
But when the people of Tamil Nadu, swayed by the DMK's promises of freebies, brought it back to power in the next election, the AIADMK leader was severely disenchanted.
Fed up with the DMK's misrule, the people again turned to Jayalalithaa and she came back to power, for her third stint as Tamil Nadu’s CM, in 2011.
Now that she has a clear majority in the assembly, she has developed a lofty contempt for the opposition. It is hardly surprising that she treats ministers as the non-entities most of them are.
The state Cabinet led by Jayalalithaa hardly has any experienced leaders, barring O Panneerselvam, who at one time was the acting chief minister.
Panneerselvam kept the CM’s chair warm for the AIADMK chief while she got her name cleared in two of the many corruption cases lodged against her.
But the other ministers in the Cabinet owe their position entirely to her. They have neither a shadow of a following in the party nor any say in the present set-up or administrative experience.
In such a situation, the only way to survive is to compete with each another in singing paeans for her, in and outside the assembly. In fact, it has become a practice for all Jayalalithaa’s ministers to line up outside the Secretariat with bouquets, to welcome the CM when she drives in.
When Jayalalithaa leaves for home in the afternoon, the ministers hurry out of their chambers to be in attendance. One minister even hurt himself in the process as, in his rush to greet the CM, his finger got jammed in the door. He still managed to make it.
Given the scenario, when State Education Minister Vaigai Selvan spoke out of turn, it was natural for him to get the boot.
Jayalalithaa even fired him in style.
On Teacher's Day, when Selvan was getting ready to attend a function in a local school, he got a message from (Jayalalithaa’s official residence) Poes Garden, that he need not bother.
Simultaneously, a message was sent to Higher Education Minister Palaniappan to attend that function in place of the sacked minister.
Since it is the chief minister's prerogative to appoint and sack ministers, no reason was given for Selvan’s exit.
Earlier, the media used to dig deeper and find out the real reason behind a minister getting fired. Sometimes, the dismissed minister would come out in open with his defence.
There is chance that the sacked minister may just be "rehabilitated" later. So patience pays.
After all, as her sycophants put it, "Amma is everything and others are only summa (nobodys)". And like God, she has the right to take away what she has so "benevolently" handed out.
Incidentally, Selvan is the fourth education minister to get the sack since the AIADMK's return to power in 2011.
The first minister to be shown the door was C V Shanmugham, whose term lasted for six months. His successor "Agri" Krishnamurthi lasted for only six days!
The next in line, M Sivapathy, managed to hang on to his post for an entire year.
Selvan, who succeeded Sivapathy, has been thrown out in six months.
But unlike his predecessors, Selvan has lost not only his ministerial position but also his post as secretary of the party’s youth and women's wing, amid allegations of misconduct
Reportedly, the decision to fire Selvan came in the wake of Jayalalithaa hearing about a secret meeting he had held with a leader in a Tiruchi hotel, during a recent visit to the town.
He reportedly rubbed several senior colleagues the wrong way. Selvan had even thrown his weight around at a Cabinet meeting, presided over by the mighty chief minister herself.
Selvan reportedly instigated a complainant to implicate State Information Minister Rajendra Balaji in a case of disproportionate assets, but the Madras high court dismissed the petition.
Now that Selvan has got the boot for his tendency to shoot off his mouth, others will be even more scared to speak out.
Mum is the word in Amma's rule.
Image: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa ' Photograph Courtesy: http://www.aiadmkallindia.org/